This morning’s news had a story announcing that our state is amending its distracted driving laws to include specific prohibitions against using smart phone functions while driving a car. In addition to texting and talking, the new amendments now delineate prohibitions against driving while surfing the Internet and engaging in social media; among other activities.
(SARCASM ALERT!) But wait, isn’t this an infringement on our individual rights? I mean, what’s wrong with shopping for shoes or updating my social media site while whizzing along at highway speeds (or while negotiating overly congested traffic)? It’s not like I’m a dunce or anything (or my personal favorite, I’m a responsible person – it’s everyone else who’s a cretin.) Really, I’m just practicing for how I can “optimize my time” and “multi-task” once those self driving cars arrive on the scene. No need waiting to the last minute, right?
Make no mistake, we’re all for individual rights. If we weren’t, several of our peccadillos might put us at risk of censure.
But along with rights come responsibilities. After all, we live in a society. We live among other beings. We enjoy individual rights but we also share collective responsibilities. Chief among them is the obligation to not permit our rights to put others in peril. When we ignore or abrogate those responsibilities, someone needs to step in – for the common good.
This concept is so integral to the principals of our nation that the Founders enshrined it in the very first sentence which is the preamble to the Constitution. They wrote, “We the people of the United States, in Order to … promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”.
Is it really a caprice that promoting the general welfare precedes securing the blessings of liberty? Probably not. The country was founded because the pre revolutionary government failed to promote the general welfare. When the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Congress in 1777, they took a stab at redressing this but the mention of common good did not appear until Article III. It was a wartime document by a revolutionary body and, as such, mutual defense and setting aside the threat of oppression came well before things like common welfare.
Following independence from Great Britain, the Articles, which still defined us, provided no over arching authority to help shape the common good. The accent on states’ rights and local interests lead to interstate rivalries and conflicts which threatened to severely damage or even sunder our new nation.
It is probably reasonable to infer that the framers of the Constitution, fearing the possible loss of all they had fought for, recognized the clear need to provide an arbiter to calm the rising tide of discord among the increasingly fractious “firm league of friendship” created under the Articles. Hence, the positioning of the the common welfare in the preamble rather than the body of the new document.
What saddens me is that, in a world where we want to save the whales and eat granola; where we’re “one Nation under God” with all the moral principals provided for in Scripture; where we think ourselves as being so advanced and civilized; we can’t seem to acknowledge that our individual acts may have far reaching consequences for others – even those nearest and dearest to ourselves.
I had hoped that by the time we reached the 21st century we would have evolved (and I’m speaking of socially here) to a point where we might actually be able to act upon our higher principals and delay gratification long enough to not wreak havoc on our fellow beings – without someone having to write it into a specific law.
I challenge all of us to rise to the aspirations of those who gave birth to this nation . Let each of us, in our daily lives; our personal actions, provide for the common good by acknowledging our responsibilities toward one another.